The biggest shake up in Family Law since 1975 is coming in September 2021 – here’s what you need to know…

15-July-2021 Family Law By Simone Green

As of 1 September 2021, separated couples seeking the Court’s assistance to settle their parenting and/or property disputes will experience a change in how their case is managed in the Court system with the merger of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Streeterlaw’s Accredited Specialist in Family Law, Simone Green explains the changes and the impact on participants in the Family Law system.

So what’s changing?

  1. Firstly, there is a change of name and its quite a mouthful! The ‘merged’ Court will be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, or ‘FCFC’
  2. While there is ‘technically’ one court, there are 2 divisions of the FCFC which will look and feel a lot like the existing Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court as we currently know them:
    1. Division 2: This is now the single point of entry for all family law and child support cases and where all Applications will now be filed (there will no longer be a choice as to which Court to file). The existing Federal Circuit Court judges will sit here and will deal with most of the cases. It is essentially a continuation of the existing Federal Circuit Court. Cases are strictly managed by the Registrars or judges to attempt to streamline the process and minimise delays.
    2. Division 1:  Will hear Appeals from Division 2 and other complex cases which are transferred from Division 2. The existing Family Court judges will sit here and it is essentially a cut back and hopefully more efficient version of the current Family Court.
  3. There will be one set of harmonized rules. Perhaps the most exciting change the merger brings is that there will no longer be two sets of Rules applying to the Courts which was cumbersome and confusing. It is likely that the harmonized Rules will take effect prior to the 1 September 2021 merger. The Court is conducting briefing sessions for the legal profession in advance of the changes.

How will it effect existing cases?

For anyone with a case already in either the Federal Circuit Court or the Family Court, not much will change except for the name of the Court and the Rules of the particular Court. At present, the Family Court is the appellate court, the Court hearing complex financial and parenting matters and those involving child abuse. Those cases, as far as we know, will remain in Division 1. There will no doubt be a period of transition for those already within the system.

What are the benefits of a merged court?

Apart from having one set of rules, the benefit of the merger is to try and streamline the family law litigation process and move toward reducing the backlog of cases which currently exist between the 2 courts. Unfortunately, in some Registries across both the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Courts, delays can stretch out beyond three years from the date of first filing the Application. The hope is that the merger will reduce the delays.

Do I have to go to Court if I separate?

No. Court litigation should still be considered a last resort when alternate dispute resolution methods such as negotiation, mediation, and conciliation have either failed or are unsuitable.

Even with the merger of the Courts and the additional judges promised to both divisions, it is doubtful that the Courts will adequately address the very real issues of delay within the system and the hardship that brings to many families, at least in the immediate future.

If you are concerned about how these changes may affect you, if you separated or in the process of separation, call today and speak with our specialist Family Law team on 1300 293 593 and let us guide you towards resolution of your dispute.

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